The Bedroom Tax (flash)

I tried to change their minds. I said, “I have to live by myself. I’m not fit to live with other people. Ask my foster mother if you don’t believe me.”

They said, “You’ll lose benefit if you refuse, Nevile. Then you won’t be able to pay your rent. Unless you get a job, of course.”

They smiled at each other as if I was too stupid to get it. I know what they think of me. I know I’m not like everyone else, but there are much worse people than me. They’re on television every day.

I rang Mrs Grace, my nicest foster mother, to try and get her to back me up.

“What do you want, Nevile?” she said, sounding in a hurry, as usual.

“Some women came round and said I had to rent out my spare bedroom or lose my benefit.”

“Did you tell them you’re not fit to live with other people?” she said.

“Yes, I did.”

“Well then, there’s nothing to be done. Decent people are losing their homes so you’ll just have to do what they say.”

“But—”

“I’ve got to go,” she said. “The nappies are boiling over.”

She says that every time I ring.

“Okay,” I said.

As I was putting the phone down I heard her say, “Oh, Nevile?”

“What?”

“Did they see your collection?”

“No.”

“I thought not.”

The line went dead.

A letter came that weekend. “Please make the room available for inspection,” it said. That meant moving the collection. I made myself some beans on toast and sat looking at it until it got too dark to see it any more.

The next morning I got up early and put on my overalls and wellingtons. It took me all day, shuffling an inch at a time, until it was all in my bedroom, stacked against the wall behind the door. I only spilt a bit and I don’t think anyone will spot the hole in the rug.

When the room was empty I scrubbed it from top to bottom and sprayed it with Febreze, which almost hid the smell.

I wondered what sort of person I’d get.

The women came back and wrinkled their noses, then shrugged at each other and said, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

Two days later Jason turned up. He wheeled his suitcase straight past me into the room and shut the door. When I was in bed he went out and by the time I got up he was back. I heard him moving about for a while and then silence.

Every day was the same for three months, until one morning his door was open when I went to the bathroom. There was a strange gurgling sound, so I looked inside. Jason was much too busy with his collection to notice me.

If Mrs Grace thinks I’ve got problems, she should meet my lodger. I hold my nose when I pass his room and double lock my door at night.

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